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Vulnerable Solidarities: Identity, Spatiality and the Contentious Politics of Migration

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Anna Finiguerra

3. Ventimiglia: A Waxing and Waning Geography of Solidarity Activism

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1On June 12th, 2015, the French police forces at the border between Ventimiglia and Menton, specifically at the checkpoint by the coastline, the so called frontiera bassa in the locality of Ponte San Luigi, refused entry to all migrants seeking to cross from Italy into France. Stuck right in front of the border, but with no way of crossing it, around 200 people took up signs and started protesting, with the help of a few local citizens who supported their cause by bringing food, water, beach parasols and makeshift curtains to provide relief from the hot June sun. The migrants’ refusal to turn away and the subsequent four days of stalemate that followed brought the situation to boiling-point. On June 16th, the Italian and French police forcefully removed the protesters, with the logistical support of the Italian Red Cross, who provided vans to escort the migrants back to the train station in Ventimiglia. Videos and pictures of the police operations that day spread quickly in the media, sparking outrage for the extreme violence they portrayed.

Figure 1. A map of the border drawn by Emanuele Giacopetti in his comic La Bolla, about the Balzi Rossi squat. The text reads: ‘In reality, borders have not existed in Europe since 1999 / In Ventimiglia they even have two: a lower and an upper one.’

Figure 1. A map of the border drawn by Emanuele Giacopetti in his comic La Bolla, about the Balzi Rossi squat. The text reads: ‘In reality, borders have not existed in Europe since 1999 / In Ventimiglia they even have two: a lower and an upper one.’

Source : https://www.graphic-news.com/​stories/​la-bolla-di-ventimiglia/​

2Protesters, however, undeterred from crossing the border after the eviction carried out by the police, reached the frontiera bassa again in the following days, giving birth to a squat that in its earliest days already counted a hundred people among its inhabitants. Soon after, inspired by the unwillingness of the migrants to abandon the rocks on which they had set up camp, and shocked by the violence they had witnessed, Italian and French citizens were the first to join the squat, giving birth to a community that took the name of the Balzi Rossi squat.

  • 1 This determination was made on the basis of activists’ testimonies, giving precedence to those init (...)

3This informal space was only the first in a series of solidarity initiatives that have cyclically appeared and disappeared in the area surrounding Ventimiglia from June 2015 to the present. Each one presented different characteristics, goals and organisational structures. In the following sections, I will provide a brief overview of the general features of these solidary spaces, focusing in particular on two aspects: the main functions of those spaces, and their organisational and governance structures. This summary is by no means exhaustive of every single initiative that was born in Ventimiglia, but focuses instead on those spaces born outside of formal political or humanitarian channels that became part of a geography of aid and activism in the borderland.1

3.1 The Balzi Rossi Squat

4Since its birth in June 2015, the Balzi Rossi squat has become a crucial landmark in the geography of Ventimiglia, and its denizens were involved both in routine activities that pertained to the running of the camp, and activities that were specifically aimed at political resistance. These included: running legal workshops on European migration policies, language workshops, and a geography workshop, gathering leftover market produce to use in the kitchen, sorting and stocking donations such as clothes, blankets and tents, running a welcome service for new members who arrived at the camp during the day, engaging in protests and demonstrations at the frontier, and participating in what the interviewees termed ‘monitoring’ and ‘cop-watching’. The latter two practices consisted in monitoring the two border checkpoints and major transport links and routes, in particular the train stations of Ventimiglia and Menton-Garavan, with the aim of recording police abuse and racial profiling in order to gather information on malpractice and to possibly deter police violence.

5The political action carried out by the Balzi Rossi squat was not limited to raising awareness of and gathering information on policing practices, but it also extended to demonstrations and marches both in Ventimiglia and near the frontier. One of the most common forms of political action against the frontier was what activists termed ‘disturbance actions’, where camp inhabitants would gather pots, lids, cutlery and bang them noisily on the steel barricades that surrounded the border checkpoint on both sides. Signs and choruses usually accompanied these demonstrations. Another type of political action that became very common at the border was the blockading of car traffic. The members of the squat would block the road so that cars could not cross on either side of the border. These blockades could sometimes last hours, but in some cases also erupted in violent confrontations with the police.

  • 2 I will use the terms ‘activist’ and ‘volunteer’ interchangeably in my writing. Although not all vol (...)

6The membership of the camp was extremely varied in terms of both provenance and length of stay. According to a volunteer who stayed there long-term until the final eviction of the squat, there was a constant turnover of participants; those who stayed for only a day or two, those who stayed a weekend or a week, and those who arrived and then never left. The squat became more and more organized as an increasing number of volunteers joined up, putting their social capital and varied expertise at the service of the community, providing inspiration for diverse forms of protest, or building a communal camp kitchen and sanitary facilities. No one seemed to be directing the organization of the squat, either in terms of logistics or in terms of political action. All the volunteers2 whom I interviewed stressed this lack of formal leadership, as well as their constant attempt to create horizontal forms of participation in the political life of the squat. Although they all confessed to an awareness of the materiality of the differences between the inhabitants of the squat, in terms of mobility (being able to cross the border), as well as of their ability to reach out and exploit a network of contacts and support, they also struggled to overcome those same barriers. When asked how issues came up and were subsequently addressed, one of them said:

We tried to break that barrier between us and you, we cook together, who decides what to cook? Who knows? The first idea that comes up. What do we need to cook? Okay, let’s go get it, this at the level of daily activities. Except for the central assembly, these routine activities grew over time, becoming little by little more fluid. For instance, sorting the clothes that were under the bridge, those that had been donated, I remember perfectly that the first time we said, well, the two of us go, let’s go sort them – there were some people who were more hardworking, and maybe I was a bit lazier – and later people joined us, migrants, solidarians, older people, young ones. Especially during the period I was there [at the beginning of the squat, between the months of June and July], these types of activities were growing organizationally […] Many things just sprang up on their own. I remember someone said, one night let’s figure something out for food, and I was still, it was the first few days, and from Nice came one of the representatives of the Islamic community with I don’t know how much food for everyone. So you say, okay, let’s organize ourselves, but after a while things just came to us. Then there were those who just got up and said, I don’t know, the toilet, the showers, someone just got down to it, full of good will, and set them up. There was the sewage drain under the bridge, one or maybe even two, now I don’t remember, everything was there, and in one or two days someone fixed them. And so we could build a toilet, like, the actual structure, and also some showers. It’s obvious that there is an issue of where do I go to the toilet, so we build a toilet. But I don’t remember it being, I don’t remember it being decided, at some point someone got up and did it. (Interview 6, author’s translation)

7More complex decisions, such as the political actions carried out by the inhabitants of the squat, were addressed in a general assembly, attended by an average of one hundred or two hundred people. The assemblies were held at night, during the Ramadan period and after breakfast later on. They usually lasted several hours on account of the need to translate every intervention into at least two languages (between Arabic, English, French and Italian), depending on the language preferred by the speaker, and also on account of their open agendas. The assemblies were not the only instances of deliberation in the camp. They grew in importance as the political momentum of the camp grew, but they were always accompanied by a constant dialogue among individuals and smaller groups in the camp, which grew out of proximity and coexistence. The very fact of living together and tackling daily necessities together allowed people to organize organically.

  • 3 Some people chose to stay in Italy and claim asylum there, while many others preferred to cross the (...)

8Nevertheless, the fluidity with which people arrived at and left the squat, as well as the diversity of goals of those who stayed3 made it difficult to craft a coherent and overarching political project out of the assemblies. On the one hand, it allowed people to feel included even when they had differing political leanings, opinions on courses of action or simply a different amount of willingness to risk police repression. Each member of the squat could opt out of any sort of activity, depending on their own personal willingness. On the other hand, the lack of a clear political project, among other issues, became a serious hurdle when some of the volunteers attempted to create a nationwide and transnational movement out of the experience in Ventimiglia.

9Many activists that had joined the squat tried later to remain active in the field by establishing themselves as network links between the squat, and thus the border, and their local realities. However, the lack of an easily identifiable locus of struggle elsewhere, such as the border check point, and the inability of activists to effectively translate the violent experience of precariousness and oppression on the Franco-Italian borderland made it more difficult to create a viable political movement in other cities. While instruments of control were, and are, equally in place in other localities, such as racially selective checks on transport and in the urban space, they have remained more invisible, creating a substantial hurdle to large-scale mobilization. This highlights the importance of a present spatial opposition, such as the checkpoint, by enabling such political forms to emerge out of a bounded spatial entity such as an independent camp. In addition to a relative failure to create a nationwide movement, the squat faced an extremely intense eviction operation on September 30th, 2015. Although many activists and migrants chose to stay in Ventimiglia and later attempted to keep the experience of the squat alive by fostering a great number of demonstrations, it seemed that the ‘bubble’ — as denizens were wont to call the Balzi Rossi camp — had burst and could not be re-created.

  • 4 Expulsion orders became one of the most used forms of oppression of political resistance, effective (...)

10After the eviction many of the migrants, ‘the guys’ (as most of the activists term them), were moved to a facility run by the Italian Red Cross near the train station in Ventimiglia and were effectively prevented from joining in any kind of demonstration. The successful attempt by the authorities to separate local activists and migrant-activists, as well as destroying the actual locus where their political activism had converged, effectively hindered the continued existence of spaces of encounter and resistance that could support solidary and migrant activism. Moreover, many activists were forced to leave the broader area of Ventimiglia due to expulsion orders issued by the police.4 The Balzi Rossi squat, in the four months of its existence, had attempted and failed to become a movement proper. The activists themselves denounced their own failure to build a lasting political project and find the necessary resources for bringing it about.

3.2 Progetto 20K and the Infopoint

11Although the Balzi Rossi squat had disappeared, many activists who had experienced life in the camp kept returning to Ventimiglia in an effort to provide relief to the migrants who were still determined to cross the border. At the same time, the municipality of Ventimiglia, in order to discourage the creation of new informal camps, banned the provision of food to migrants in public spaces. This measure, allegedly implemented for sanitary reasons, was ultimately an attempt to discourage migrants from staying in Ventimiglia by eliminating all those support networks that had been born through shared political engagement at the Balzi Rossi squat.

  • 5 Passeurs are small-scale traffickers who offer people a ride from Italy to France, usually for a hi (...)

12The increase in repression of solidarity activism that accompanied this new phase of migration flows through Ventimiglia, coupled with the increase in the militarization and strictness of the border controls on both sides, did nothing to stem migration flows. Rather, it created a situation in which organized crime, human traffickers and passeurs5 held more power and could strengthen their hold on their victims. Volunteers that had been present in Ventimiglia at this time reported many more cases of physical violence, gender-based violence, and instances of sex-trafficking, than for those who had stayed in Ventimiglia over the summer. Similarly, the number of deaths in attempted crossings increased, as migrants attempted to climb on top of trains, squeeze in the space between coaches or attempted to cross into France though a mountain track aptly called il passo della morte, literally death’s pass. As one volunteer described the situation:

Almost every day I crossed the border back and forth, while there were hundreds, thousands of people who were there stuck attempting to find a way to cross that same border, sometimes risking and losing their lives, or anyway being seriously affected personally, psychologically, because it really is a very violent situation, and all this to cross a border that for us [Europeans] hasn’t existed for decades. So it’s a paradoxical situation […] A waste of resources, also public ones, to control and stop something that obviously cannot be managed this way. It’s obvious that people who arrive in Italy with dinghies because they’re fleeing Libya, or some other place, don’t have to stop here necessarily. (Interview 3, author’s translation).

13At the same time, the number of people arriving in Italy and attempting to cross into France reached its peak between the summers of 2016 and 2017, fostering the birth of other informal encampments that outside institutional responses understood more as hiding-places than budding communities. Volunteers who had become active in this field during the time of the Balzi Rossi squat, as well as other local and international civil society groups, responded to the emergency by setting up alternative spaces where migrants could find safety, legal aid, food, clothes and a sense of community. These initiatives varied in terms of services offered and degrees of cooperation with formal NGOs or the authorities. However, over time constant cooperation and proximity led these separate groups to become a relatively loose and open network that spanned the whole geography of the borderland, both on the Italian and the French side.

14It was at this stage, in 2016, that the collective Progetto 20K was born. Activists who had been present during the last days of the Balzi Rossi squat and had chosen to remain in Ventimiglia in an attempt to find alternative means to continue that same project of solidarity, founded the collective and subsequently opened up the Infopoint Eufemia. The Infopoint, opened alongside some other local groups such as Popoli in Arte and Meltingpot, was a space where they offered legal aid, access to internet and electricity, clothes, tents and other support material as well as, starting from 2017, a women-only space once a week. Before the official opening of the Infopoint, the collective was also involved in distributing food and meals, irrespective of the local ban on distributing food in the street to migrants. This specific ban was seen by activists as another sign of the increasingly absurd attempts by authorities to break down ties of solidarity and basic aid between civil society and migrants.

We started going there after the eviction of the squat, because at that time there was the municipal ban by the Mayor, who’s still the current Mayor, Ioculano, banning the distribution of food to the migrants who were in the city, their aim was to avoid the creation of new forms of solidarity, these camps… We’re talking about almost a thousand migrants there in the city, so naturally they had to stay somewhere, they had to cook for themselves somewhere, or anyway, taking care of their own basic necessities: food, sleep and right after, attempting to cross the border. We started cooking and distributing meals, like we were distributing something illegal. It was a paradoxical situation, we were in a car, distributing meals quickly so the police wouldn’t come and see us doing it. (Interview 3, author’s translation)

15As the activities of the collective became more nuanced, including the provision of legal aid and monitoring of the territory of Ventimiglia and the border proper, activists felt the need to create a space where these activities could be stably carried out. The aim was to create a fixed location, which could become a landmark in the geography of migration in Ventimiglia for both activists and migrants, a space where people could rest and receive the help necessary to regain control of their lives.

  • 6 This interview was carried out in March 2019; at the time of writing the Infopoint had been closed (...)
  • 7 Kesha Niya is an independent group of activists who arrived in Ventimiglia in 2017 and have since t (...)

20K has this function of permanent observatory on Ventimiglia, but I think that the real advantage of 20K was understanding that we need to have, we need to gain space in Ventimiglia, and opening up a spot like the Infopoint was the proof of that. Breathing, the city needs to breathe. And so, this way, [20K] has done a good job and now we need to regain what we have lost.6 Because in Ventimiglia a space like that is missing. I mean, Kesha Niya7 does an incredible job because they have a presence, a monitoring function, but they are present in spots, and you understand [it’s important] to know that there is a free space where you can go in and ask for information in a border town like Ventimiglia, where apart from Caritas, which yes, they give you clothes and a bag with a sandwich and an apple, but done that, it’s over. (Interview 4, author’s translation)

  • 8 According to one of the founders, during the summer there have been surges of 150 or more volunteer (...)

16Monitoring, much as it had been for the activists in Balzi Rossi, was one of the crucial activities carried out by the collective. The presence of a significant number of volunteers, who cooperated with the collective in a constant turnover,8 made it possible to have several monitoring shifts starting at 5 a.m. and ending at 2 a.m. the next day, during which volunteers patrolled the train station, the border, the riverside and the beach. Monitoring had two principal functions. On the one hand, activists were trying to record the number of arrivals, as well as people’s gender, age and provenance, and whether they were alone or traveling with family. On the other, monitoring was a tool to record racial profiling during police patrols in the train station and discourage episodes of police brutality.

17As the situation in Ventimiglia became more and more violent and fraught for the activists, it became increasingly obvious that there was a real need to offer some basic formal training, and also to take true stock of the psychological conditions of those volunteers who had been in place for longer periods of time. The constant change among volunteers tied to the collective was in this case a precious resource, allowing people to take time away from their work in Ventimiglia, but it also became a problem in terms of the day-to-day management of activities and in terms of decision-making. The collective organized assemblies to direct their activities each month, as well as longer meetings held every few months to reflect on past actions and determine a general direction for the future. Although these meetings were open to everyone, decision-making processes were not entirely horizontal, as activists who had been involved for longer or who had taken up positions of leadership seemed to have a greater voice as well as a bigger stake in decision-making.

3.3 Kesha Niya: No Borders, No Problem

  • 9 Unlike Progetto 20K or other NGOs who worked on the ground in Ventimiglia, Kesha Niya has no formal (...)

18In the early months of 2017, another group of activists reached Ventimiglia with the purpose of assisting migrants in their journey, Kesha Niya. The group was born in 2016 and was settled in the La Linière camp in Dunkirk. After the destruction of the camp, many of its members chose to relocate to Ventimiglia, where they could continue their work, which consisted mainly in providing meals to migrants in the style of a community kitchen. The name Kesha Niya is a Sorani Kurdish phrase for ‘no problem’ and the motto of the group9 is ‘no border, no problem’. The group, defined by one of their own activists as a ‘group of friends’, shares many of the attitudes, aims and internal workings of the Balzi Rossi squat, although no real connection exists between the two. Before its arrival in Ventimiglia, Kesha Niya worked in an environment that was quite similar to Balzi Rossi, where the practice of cooking and sharing a meal could foster horizontal relationships and equality between migrants and activists, and where resources were gathered through alternative practices such as market recycling, dumpster diving, or the more formal channel of private donations.

19The internal workings of the group thus try to reflect this commitment to non-hierarchical organization by involving everyone (migrants and activists) equally in both the daily activities of the group and their decision-making processes. However, since their arrival in Ventimiglia, the lack of a common space with common facilities comparable to the Linière camp or the Balzi Rossi squat have changed the action of the group, effectively creating a distance between the volunteers and the migrants, which is also reflected in the workings of the other organizations present on the ground. Although Kesha Niya activists do not share their living space with migrants anymore, they have maintained a horizontal and consensual approach to decision-making, with a particular awareness for the unspoken and hidden hierarchies that so commonly structure group dynamics.

  • 10 Kesha Niya activists reside in camps that the group has built on the French side of the border on p (...)

20Kesha Niya began their action in Ventimiglia with the provision of packaged meals prepared in their camp, and later distributed in the city from their vans. In 2017, their membership gravitated around 30 people stably housed in the area10 and they travelled every day to Ventimiglia to distribute the food. The provision of meals later transformed to include both a breakfast and dinner distribution in fixed locations, held respectively on the roadside at the frontiera alta, in Grimaldi, and in via Tenda, in Ventimiglia. In particular, the breakfast service functions as both a space for the provision of food to people held during the night in the French police station and released during the day, and for the monitoring of the border itself. Activists who manage the breakfast service take note of the number, provenance and gender of the people released back into Italian territory, provide them with basic information about Ventimiglia and the spaces where they are likely to receive aid, offer friendly advice or lend a willing ear to those who feel the need to complain about their situation or simply share their experience, record any incident of police brutality or other unlawful practices, whether through evidence or through the testimony of migrants reaching their movable camp. They also provide food and drink, medicines, a charging station for phones and a Wi-Fi hotspot.

  • 11 Activists copied this map by hand several times in several languages and later distributed it to mi (...)

Figure 2. A hand-drawn map11 in Italian showing the main landmarks of humanitarian aid and solidarity present in Ventimiglia.

Figure 2. A hand-drawn map11 in Italian showing the main landmarks of humanitarian aid and solidarity present in Ventimiglia.

Source: Personal archive of the author.

  • 12 Since February this year, professional NGOs such as Oxfam, Save The Children, Doctors of the World (...)

21Kesha Niya monitoring activity did not start with the breakfast service, however. Although at the time of writing, it is the only monitoring hotspot12 managed by activists left in Ventimiglia, in 2017 and in 2018 Kesha Niya activists cooperated with all the other associations, collectives and NGOs present on the ground in organizing monitoring shifts in the train station, on the riverside and the beach. Monitoring was carried out by mixed teams usually representing two or more organizations, of which at least one tended to be a professional NGO, whose easily recognizable badges and vests were an additional form of deterrence against harassment by the police forces.

3.4 Bar Hobbit

22The Bar Hobbit is a small café a few streets away from the train station in Ventimiglia. From the beginning of the migration crisis in 2015, and especially at its peak in 2016 and 2017, it became a space where migrants could rest, eat and drink something (sometimes provided for free), without fear of being turned away. The experience of the Bar Hobbit started almost by accident as the owner, nick-named Mamma Africa, describes it; with a simple, unthinking answer to a wordless request for aid:

It was August 15th, so Ventimiglia was empty, in the meantime there was the municipal ban by the current mayor, and the prohibition to distribute food to the migrants in the streets, and I had already started welcoming them, before August 15th and with some guys, I had that bond of friendship with recurring costumers, you know? And so I told them “Guys, on August 15th I will make lasagne for you”, very simple, without meat because many are Muslims […] In the meantime, that morning, there was no one, but there were some women on the opposing sidewalk, sitting on the steps of the shops closed for the holiday, with small children, and I heard the children cry. So, here there was nobody, because everyone was coming at 1pm to eat. So I told them, to these women, I walked up to them and said that they could come in, they didn’t have to buy anything, if the children needed water, the bathroom, they could use everything. Then they came in, and the children ate, I had leftover brioches, some pizzas because I hadn’t worked, since it was a holiday, and I gave them food and water. This gesture surely, and the use of the bathroom, there were children who [whose nappies] where full of poo, so, I let them wash, I don’t know if you noticed there is a changing table, I got it for that occasion, I understood that they needed nappies for the children because many didn’t have them, and I also understood that time that a woman needed sanitary pads. So let’s say that that first year I didn’t think about my job, I didn’t think with my brain, I thought with my heart, that kind of thought. (Interview 2, author’s translation).

23From that moment onwards, word spread among migrants in Ventimiglia, and the Bar Hobbit became a well-known hotspot where migrants could receive or purchase food, charge their phones, use the bathroom, and spend time while waiting to cross the border. It became known to the locals as the bar degli immigrati, the immigrants’ bar, and locals little by little stopped crossing the threshold and started boycotting the bar. At the time of writing the bar was frequented only by migrants, activists and other humanitarian personnel attached to the Red Cross or Caritas. The change in the clientele and the loss of local customers drove Mamma Africa to significantly change her way of doing business in an attempt to keep her bar open.

24These changes were still not enough to support the continued existence of the bar over the years, and it risked closing between 2017 and 2018 and was saved by a fundraising effort made through crowdfunding. This influx of capital was enough to keep the bar open another year and pay off its debts, however, the Bar Hobbit risks closure again. The existence of the Bar Hobbit was not only endangered by its economic difficulties, but also by the consistent and continued flow of threats and oppressive violence. Vandalism, as well as personal threats to Mamma Africa herself, in addition to severe pressure from the authorities to stop welcoming migrants or to face the consequences, were some of the attempts made by the wider population of Ventimiglia to make this solidary space disappear.

25However, its owner remains undiscouraged by these attempts, and firm in her decision to help migrants in Ventimiglia. The Bar Hobbit has thus become a crucial landmark in the geography of activism in the borderland, providing a meeting space for migrants as well as for activists. Here, meetings among all the solidary groups, independent volunteers and professional NGOs are organized every other week (in a billiard room converted into a conference room at the back of the bar), other local initiatives are advertised, and Mamma Africa has become a figure of importance in cases of emergency, especially for what concerns trafficking.

26Trust and respect seem to be the bedrock of Mamma Africa’s relationship with the migrants. These ties are born out of the recognition of the risks to which she exposes herself and the protection she offers, and they firmly put her in a position of authority inside her own bar as well as in the broader network of solidarity activism in Ventimiglia. Many other activists not only recognize the wealth of the work she does but also credit her with a superior capability to establish trust and communicate with people in need, especially women who are seeking to escape sex trafficking. This capacity, which Mamma Africa defines as purely personal and instinctual, well summarizes the importance that personal relationships, willingness to help and case by case diagnosis and prognosis of situations have for solidarity networks in Ventimiglia. These operational processes stand in clear contrast with the bureaucratic protocols employed not only by formal humanitarian actors but also by more professional civil society organizations such as international NGOs, warranting a closer look at how these informal networks perform a certain politics of migration and mobility in the borderland, providing spaces of resistance as well as of aid and care.

Notes

1 This determination was made on the basis of activists’ testimonies, giving precedence to those initiatives that had featured prominently in their narratives.

2 I will use the terms ‘activist’ and ‘volunteer’ interchangeably in my writing. Although not all volunteers would cast their action in a frame of political activism or resistance, and some would also distinguish very starkly between direct aid provided to migrants and fruitful political action, for the purpose of my analysis this distinction is not only of little analytical use, but also untenable. Furthermore, the term ‘volunteer’ in many of my interviews was used interchangeably with the term ‘solidarian’, to distinguish European nationals from migrants, who, in turn, were often simply referred to as ‘the guys’ or ‘the shabaabs’ (young men in Arabic).

3 Some people chose to stay in Italy and claim asylum there, while many others preferred to cross the border. Among those who wanted to eventually leave the country, some wanted to cross the border in a small group, undetected, while others wanted to take their struggle to the point where everyone would be able to cross together without fear (Interview 6).

4 Expulsion orders became one of the most used forms of oppression of political resistance, effectively removing Italian activists from the borderland. It became such an immediate and automatic response, that any minor offence or even the mere presence of activists together with migrants in the public space was enough to engender such a measure. Because oftentimes expulsion orders were abused by the police forces in their attempt to crack down on solidarity activism, many activists made appeals to the judiciary, and won, on account of these measures being used beyond the scope of the law.

5 Passeurs are small-scale traffickers who offer people a ride from Italy to France, usually for a high fee.

6 This interview was carried out in March 2019; at the time of writing the Infopoint had been closed down due to the refusal of the landlord to renew a lease contract. The closing of the Infopoint had been official since December 2018.

7 Kesha Niya is an independent group of activists who arrived in Ventimiglia in 2017 and have since then become another crucial node in the solidary network in Ventimiglia. A more detailed description of the group’s internal structure and activities will follow in the next section.

8 According to one of the founders, during the summer there have been surges of 150 or more volunteers joining the open network of the collective. Volunteers are mainly women, ages range from 20 to 40 years old and the average length of stay is extremely variable. As was the case with the Balzi Rossi squat, some people only stay for a few days or a week, while others stay for months or resettle entirely. Also some migrants became involved in the running of the Infopoint, but they were decidedly fewer than those who had been active in the Balzi Rossi squat. Those who chose to cooperate with the Progetto 20K collective were those who had decided to remain in Italy and had also managed to find some work or a more stable situation for themselves in Ventimiglia. The surge of migrant-led activism, which had kicked off the Balzi Rossi occupation, was never fully repeated in the following years.

9 Unlike Progetto 20K or other NGOs who worked on the ground in Ventimiglia, Kesha Niya has no formally recognized status as an association or a non-profit organization.

10 Kesha Niya activists reside in camps that the group has built on the French side of the border on private lands, thanks to their personal connections with French residents sympathetic to their cause. Because of the precariousness of these arrangements, the group has had to allocate activists in more than one camp, and to change location several times.

11 Activists copied this map by hand several times in several languages and later distributed it to migrants. It specifies the positions of the main landmarks, their address and the services or facilities offered. It also records the timetable for the bus, which connects the border with the city centre of Ventimiglia, and the price of the ticket.

12 Since February this year, professional NGOs such as Oxfam, Save The Children, Doctors of the World and We World have also begun to join the Kesha Niya activists at the frontiera alta. While the presence of professional NGO observers is valued because of their legal expertise and institutional contacts, many activists have expressed frustration with the constraints that regulate the activities of these groups, and their unwillingness to do more and work outside of their strict organizational mandates.

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